Children’s Day or Tango no Sekku (端午の節句) is a national holiday observed every May 5th in Japan. On this day, the Japanese decorate the house and eat special foods wishing for children’s health and happiness.
Every May 5th, the Japanese celebrates Children’s Day or Kodomo no Hi (こどもの日). On this national holiday, children are respected and honored for their individual strengths, and happiness is wished upon them.
The History of Children’s Day
Children’s day in Japan dates back to the Nara Period (AD 710 to 794) when it was known as Tango no Sekku (端午の節句). It was a day to celebrate the perseverance, strength, and well-being of boys.
After the post-War constitution in 1948, the Tango no Sekku holiday was renamed Kodomo no Hi (Children’s Day). This holiday now includes girls and celebrates the health and happiness of all children, and to express gratitude toward mothers.
Girl’s Day or Hinamatsuri (doll festival) is observed every March 3; however, it is not considered as a public holiday.
How To Celebrate Children’s Day
1. Fly “Koinobori” Streamers
The Japanese families fly carp-shaped “Koinobori” streamers in their house (usually in the backyard or on the balcony). Why carp? It’s from an old Chinese story of a carp swimming up a waterfall and turning into a dragon. In Japanese folklore, the carp symbolizes determination and strength and it represents the desire for boys to become brave and strong individuals.
Each carp/streamer represents a family member. Traditionally a large black carp known as “Magoi” representing the father, flies at the top of the pole. Then a red carp “Higoi” representing the mother right below father. Then a blue carp representing the first son, followed by other boys in the family below.
2. Decorate Samurai Warrior (or Kintaro) Figures and/or “Kabuto” Helmet
When a boy is born, his parents or grandparents usually buy (or pass down) their son/grandson Kabuto, samurai helmet, or/and Gogatsu Ningyo (samurai or Kintaro or Momotaro doll and his armaments). The Japanese families displayed them within their home to inspire strength and bravery from the beginning of April until mid-May.
3. Eat Chimaki or Kashiwamochi
On Children’s Day, the Japanese in Kanto (Tokyo area) eat Kashiwa Mochi (柏餅) and the Japanese in Kansai (Osaka area) eat Chimaki (粽).
Kashiwa Mochi is a rice cake stuffed with red bean paste and wrapped in oak leaves which symbolize good fortune and prosperity (succession to the headship of a house). This is because the oak tree does not shed its old leaves until new ones have grown.
The custom of eating Chimaki, or steamed glutinous rice dumpling wrapped in a bamboo leaf, came from Chinese zongzi (粽子). The Japanese version is a sweet dessert (wagashi), but we also eat Chinese style savory dumplings filled with different combinations of meats and vegetables.
4. Decorate Iris at Home and Soak in Iris Bath
Iris bloom in early May and it’s decorated in the house to ward off evil. The Japanese also take baths filled with iris leaves on this day because the word Iris is Shobu in Japanese, and shobu has another meaning which is a battle. Therefore, samurai used to soak in iris bath or Shobuyu (菖蒲湯) before the battles.
10 Popular Menus for Children’s Day
Japanese families with children usually celebrate Children’s Day at home with home-cooked meals. Here are some of the dishes I suggest.
Kashiwa Mochi is a rice cake stuffed with red bean paste and wrapped in oak leaves which symbolize good fortune and prosperity. It’s a signature food that we eat on Children’s Day.
Whether you celebrate Children’s Day or not, you can find these sweet dumplings at grocery stores and Japanese sweets stores. If you see them at your local Japanese grocery store, don’t forget to try some as a snack!
Sekihan, or steamed rice cooked with azuki red beans, is always served on happy occasions in Japan, and Children’s Day is not an exception.
Chirashi Sushi is served on Children’s Day as well as Hinamatsuri (Girls’ Day) and other happy occasions. Children usually prefer Chirashi Sushi over Sekihan (Azuki Red Bean Rice above) as it has more colorful ingredients on top.
Ushio-Jiru is a clear soup made with seafood such as white fish or clams and seasoned with only salt and sake. Japanese Clear Clam Soup is one of the most popular soups enjoyed in Japan. If you like miso, you can make Clam Miso Soup instead.
Chikuzenni (筑前煮) or Nishime (煮しめ) is a classic Japanese simmered dish which root vegetables and chicken are cooked in a savory dashi broth. This can also be a side dish and you can make it ahead of time.
Other dishes that are often served for traditional Tango no Sekku include:
- Bamboo shoot (Takenoko 筍) – Bamboo grows tall and straight, so eating bamboo symbolizes the growth.
- Lotus Root (Renkon 蓮根) – Holes in lotus root is a symbol of an unobstructed view of the future.
- Red snapper (Tai 鯛) – Tai shares the same sound as Medetai, or auspicious. Therefore grilled whole red snapper is served on celebratory occasions.
- Shrimp (Ebi 海老) – The red color symbolizes vitality.
- Skipjack tuna (Katsuo 鰹) – It sounds the same as Katsuo (勝男) meaning a man who won a victory.
- Yellowtail/Japanese amberjack (Buri ブリ) – Samurai and scholars used to change their names when they succeed in life. As Buri also changes its name depending on its size, eating these fish symbolizes success in life.
Children Menus…Because It’s Children’s Day!
The above dishes are more for adults, and they are not necessarily children’s favorite dishes. In recent years, the Japanese started to prepare children’s favorite foods and include more colorful dishes for the celebration.
Karaage is Japanese fried chicken that is fried to perfection with a crisp texture on the outside, and super juicy and tender meat on the inside.
Harumaki is a crispy Japanese spring roll wrapped with a delicious filling of pork, chicken, shrimp, shiitake mushroom, carrots, and vermicelli. They make excellent finger food or appetizer.
The Japanese children love Hambagu in their bento, family restaurant, and dinner menu. You can also make mini ones for a bite-size appetizer!
The children love shrimp, especially when it’s coated with crispy panko and deep-fried! Ebi Fry is a classic western style Japanese dish and a popular menu for Okosama Set (Children’s Meal) at family restaurants.
Last, but not least…I recommend a salad dish that children love in Japan. It is a Japanese potato salad!
Happy Children’s Day!
We hope you enjoy these Children’s Day menus I put together!
Editor’s Note: The post was originally published on April 29, 2017. It has been updated in May 2020.